You Didn’t Predict This – Psychic Friends Network (1990s)

Grammy-winning singer Dionne Warwick is probably as famous for her involvement with the Psychic Friends Network as she is for her singing and her philanthropy.  The Psychic Friends Network was a 1-900 number service that, for $3.99 a minute, connected a person with their personal psychic consultant in an ongoing ‘future-therapy’ session that helped that caller navigate the issues of their life. The head of the Network was psychic Linda Georgian; Warwick was just the pitch-person for the service. And pitch it she did – half-hour “episodes” of the Psychic Friends Network talk show were a staple of ’90s late-night cable.  Here’s a look at one such episode.

It’s a talk-show format and a talk-show set. The audience seems reasonably excited to be there. Dionne kicks things off to a few accolades about her singing career, then quickly introduces Linda who just-as-quickly transitions into a segment where prizes are being awarded to the winners of some strange contest. Participants in the Psychic Friends Network were encouraged to submit stories featuring their encounters with their Psychic Friends, and the most interesting ones were awarded $10,000, $15,000, and $25,000 in order of interestingness. The fascinating part of this segment, to me, is that the enormous checks handed out BY LINDA to these people are made out in the amount of “EXACTLY” that amount of money. The word “Exactly” is literally on the check.

We then transition to our first re-enactment, the sweet spot of any good infomercial. This one features Tonecia, a mother under financial duress but with enough spare change to have a regular $3.99/minute relationship with a Psychic Friend.  She also has a trumpet player in her house that is causing her unspecified stress.

 

She calls her Friend in a stressful moment and her Friend surprises her by bringing up her money problems, leading to this gem of a line:

“A little financial trouble? That’s like saying Noah had a little plumbing problem!”

To be fair, it wasn’t Noah who had any trouble with water. He was the only one who didn’t have any trouble with it. If you wanted to make the metaphor work, it would be “the whole world around the time that Noah completed his Ark” that had the little plumbing problem.  But we get it, right?

Tonecia’s psychic consultant – I mean friend –  foresees not only an end to her financial troubles but also a red car.  Tanisha takes this advice and enters a second chance Lotto for $100,000.  Imagine her surprise weeks later when the announcer declares that Tonecia has won. He declares her the winner, by name, on television, because thats what lotteries do.

(Again with the “EXACTLY” in the dollar amount!)

Tonecia then buys a red car, which I guess counts as her fulfilling the prophecy.

The show moves on to a celebrity reading featuring soap actor Steve Burton.After being complimented on his aura, he affirms his belief in psychics and they get right down to a staged phone call in front of an audience of adults who must certainly know better.

At one point Steve interrupts Serena to affirm that he is a romantic person.

Serena: “I feel like there’s a lot of romance around you–”

Steve: “OH, THERE IS, EVERYWHERE AROUND ME”

*cue audience woos and laughter.

…the nineties, folks.

He then wraps up the reading by asking the psychic for insights into upcoming plotlines for him on General Hospital.  This bit also slays the audience.

We’re then thrown into a montage of customers praising the benefits of their psychic friends. About 70% of the people featured in these montages are Soap Opera actors.

Then, it’s time for another reenactment. Deedee asks her psychic friend if there’s any love around the corner for her, and her friend declares that she’ll run into someone from her past and that also she’ll have a baby with this person.  GUESS WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENS?

Carousels and everything! There’s an interesting wrinkle, though – the relationship goes sour for a period which stresses Deedee out, but her psychic friend tells her that Tom’s got a complicated situation on his hands and encourages her to hang in there.  Sure enough, Tom DID have a complicated situation – his marriage – that he ultimately ditches to be with Deedee! And they DID have a baby!

And they brought the baby onto the show to prove it!

We hit another montage suspiciously stacked with Soap stars, and then it’s time for “impromptu” audience psychic readings by Linda herself!

And that’s a wrap. There’s a frustrating duality for me with the Psychic Friends Network. On one hand this is the original infomercial template, the baseline that so many informercials built their “glory” upon. It looks enough like a real show to be convincing and it’s aged well in the sense that at this point it’s entertaining to see how seriously this idea took itself. These are the hallmarks of a great infomercial. I won’t say it’s the gold standard – that’s still the Magic Bullet – but it’s a solid foundation for what the most memorable infomercials in the industry would become and it is very entertaining.

On the other hand, though, people believed in this garbage. There may have been some of us who were smart enough in the early ’90s to see this for what it was, but there were a lot of us who weren’t.  This isn’t some cheap product that doesn’t work and gets thrown away, leaving a laughably regrettable”I bought that thing from late night TV” story. This is someone’s well-being placed in the hands of people who toy with it, not respecting what they’ve been given because they’re not professionals.  It’s gross and it’s important not to overlook that aspect of this, that it probably contributed to a lot of heartache.

Too much of a buzzkill? Sorry. Here’s the special – number 9 in the series.

-ds